As the tide turns and the popularity of the perilous platform recedes, so the pendulum of fashion swings in favour of the timeless stiletto pump. The elegant silhouette of this shoe has emerged as the pivotal shape for autumn/winter, lending a much-needed Norman Parkinson-era elegance and sophistication to the new season’s fashion.
Until recently, the selection revolved around a triumvirate of famous designer brands, namely Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin, and smaller labels such as Rupert Sanderson and Gianvito Rossi. All have built reputations on creating variations on the theme of beautifully made shoes that are skinny in the heel and pointed in the toe. But now permutations of the style seem to be limitless, as a slew of designers have adopted the court shoe for autumn/winter.
Pigalle (offered in heights of 85mm, 100mm or 120mm) is undoubtedly Christian Louboutin’s most iconic shoe. “Pigalle is timeless, it’s a shoe that can last a lifetime. You can wear it in winter or summer; in suede or leather, shiny or matte,” says the designer. “It’s the first 120mm heel of mine that women have acquired in huge numbers. But to my mind, it reaches its maximum expression in black-patent leather, because of the colour of the sole and the precision of the design. The name evokes the movies and an image of 1950s Paris, as viewed by a vivid and talented Hollywood.”
An authority on heels, Manolo Blahnik says that in the past he has “created this classical closed-toe shoe for mothers, daughters and granddaughters”, explaining that the court shoe is probably the most difficult to make because “proportions have to be absolutely perfect”. His collection this season includes the patterned and the plain. There’s Berle, a striking tartan design (£950); Boa, a dainty red, blue, black or silver fabric shoe with contrasting black heel and bow (£620); and Osmana (£500), a white and silver leather high court shoe created with Osman Yousefzada. However, Blahnik points out that the moniker “court shoe” is outdated given that the royal court is no longer central to our society, as it once was.
Liam Fahy has experimented with a court-style upper, creating a hybrid d’Orsay style, with cut-out sides (£625), while Rupert Sanderson’s signature stiletto pump (£375) features a curvaceous top line with an almond toe and slim, set-back heel, and is carried across three heel heights – 110mm Elba (£395), 100mm Malory (£375) and 80mm Nada (£375). At Jimmy Choo there are currently 29 different court shoe options. “We offer the single sole in a variety of silhouettes, fabrications, colours and heel heights. It is a style that is definitely back in the limelight and one we feel we have real authority in,” explains creative director Sandra Choi. Designing a clean-cut court shoe, she says, is the most challenging piece of footwear tailoring as the silhouette of the heel, the balance of the last, correct length of the toe and the cut of the top line, which determines how much toe cleavage is shown, all need to be millimetre-perfect.
However, of all these skinny-heel specialists it seems Gianvito Rossi is the designer most in-demand at the moment for his simple yet highly desirable creations (Alina pump, £545). Holli Rogers, Net-a-Porter’s fashion director, describes him as “the king of the single-sole pump”; while Pam Brady, accessories buyer at Browns, explains how his holographic shoe with a 100mm heel has already been pre-ordered by some of her best customers. “He’s the big one,” says the head of fashion at Matchesfashion.com, Natalie Kingham. “Some of our clients have even been known to buy up to eight pairs of his shoes at a time.” Kingham explains that her customers absolutely love Rossi’s 80mm heel height in particular, as it is “a chic and easy way to make every outfit look pulled together and polished”.
Rossi’s shoes appeal precisely because they don’t overshadow the woman wearing them. “I love the stiletto pump, I think it’s the best [shape] to exalt a woman’s silhouette,” says the designer following in the famous footsteps of his shoemaking father Sergio, who sold his eponymous business to the Gucci Group in 1999. This season, the Gianvito Rossi palette is a sombre one – army-green suede, black ponyskin, camouflage or grey – offset with pops of colour. These simple closed-toe court shoes are offered in four heel heights: 70mm, 85mm, 105mm and 115mm.
Stiletto pumps also take centre stage in the collection of newcomer Paul Andrew. His retro-inspired court shoe Sohelia (£840) features a striking houndstooth fabric and a contrasting toe-cap. “The spindle-heel stiletto just seems so right for the moment,” explains the British-born, New York-based designer who has created shoes for Narciso Rodriguez, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. In spring 2013 he launched his eponymous collection, selling it to Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue, and he will be having a homecoming of sorts this season when he makes his Harrods debut.
Andrew says he strives for refinement and elegance in his shoes. And with an underslung silhouette, which follows the line of the leg and finishes with “just the right amount of toe cleavage”, the signature Paul Andrew heel is easily identifiable. Helen David, head of womenswear at Harrods, also notes that the designer’s sexy-chic contemporary heels are wonderfully crafted, “so they really fit beautifully”.
Simple stilettos from Nicholas Kirkwood’s former assistant Sophia Webster (another newcomer) are all the more unexpected given that the Londoner’s first collection included a riot of spots, flamingos, palm trees, beading and raffia. Along with Liza (from £320) and Emeli (£495), which both come in jade green and a smattering of polka dots, Webster has developed the pared-down 90mm stiletto pump Lola (from £195) in navy, white, neon-patent (£195), glitter and mirrored leather, all with a stitched leather sole.
As well as channelling many of the season’s key trends, such as tartan, colour blocking and exotic skins, the appeal of this season’s pumps is the choice of heel heights. Hedi Slimane introduced a single-sole design with a choice of four different heels in his first collection for Saint Laurent. With the potential to become as iconic as the Saint Laurent Tribute, the newest incarnation of this classic court shoe – featuring a squarish, set-back “Rive Gauche” heel – is available in black and platinum (£400) or black and gold python-printed suede (£400), with a 105mm heel.
The skinny heel itself is also the current focus of experimentation and innovation, with banana and set-back shapes. Nicholas Kirkwood is offering chrome or gold-metal stilettos, and at Jimmy Choo, a new metallic wishbone-shaped heel features on a single-soled suede version of the Lilt court (£775). Meanwhile, at Roger Vivier, creative director Bruno Frisoni has revived the iconic comma heel, Virgule, which was originally created in 1963, and produced it in 70mm (£485) and 100mm (£520) heights. And it is the “mid-heel”, the term for those under 70mm (or even under 100mm, as for some anything under 120mm appears low), that is shaping up to be the most popular of all.
Finding the perfect shoe, especially for a catwalk show, is not an easy task, explains Net-a-Porter’s Rogers. “Proenza Schouler’s 60mm pointy toe pumps [£425] perfectly complemented its collection,” she says, adding that Givenchy and Alexander Wang also nailed this “versatile” mid-height heel. Starting from as low as 35mm, they are not only practical and easy to walk in, shoes in mid and kitten heights can also be glamorous and statement-making, too. Christian Louboutin, for example, has added the 45mm-heeled silver-glitter Gruotta (£625) to his repertoire this season, while Louis Vuitton’s Glam Rock (£720) appears understated until you come to the 150 Swarovski Elements that sparkle in the shoe’s curved mid-heel.
But it is Tabitha Simmons who is probably best known for the super-low stiletto. “Tabitha is always ahead of the fashion curve and the instant we saw her range of kitten heels we responded immediately,” says Elizabeth Kanfer, senior fashion director of accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue. “She has the rare talent of being able to reinvent what could be considered a traditional silhouette with youthful colours and materials.” In 2010, Simmons showed a black velvet kitten pump with a bijou 35mm heel and a distinctive faux-crystal stingray bow; this season it’s been reincarnated as Heloise ($875), a ruby-red velvet slipper featuring the very same 35mm heel. “I just hung in there with kitten heels because they felt fresh and new again,” says the Manhattan-based designer. Which just goes to show that timelessness is true to form.